Keeping Business Moving: Building a sustainable commute program for Ontario SMEs by UrbanTrans North America
Creation of a training program and resource kit to help SME employees carpool, bike, walk or take transit more frequently.
In Ontario, passenger vehicles account for over half of the transportation sector’s emissions and is primarily responsible for its 24% growth since 1990(1). This growth in passenger vehicle use has had an impact on more than just emissions. According to a 2008 study, the GTHA economy loses approximately 6 billion dollars due to traffic congestion(2). SMEs are affected by the same congestion-related challenges as any other corporation: lost time due to employee lateness or absenteeism, employee attraction and retention, mobility of goods and services, and the effect of commute-related stress on employee productivity(3).
Businesses benefit from reduced congestion on our road network by promoting low-carbon forms of commuter transport such as carpooling, transit, walking, and cycling for their employees. However, encouraging employees to change travel behaviour is complex and requires resources and capacity that SMEs frequently do not have. Our goal is to create a toolkit and training program (online and in-person) that builds the capacity of SMEs to create an effective commute options program for their staff. By reducing the number of employees driving alone to their workplace, SMEs can immediately and significantly reduce their carbon emissions and benefit from improved staff retention, morale and productivity, all with a minimal investment of time and resources.
How do you know that your solution is desirable to SMEs, and will reduce GHG emissions?
Workplace commute options programs offer value beyond values-driven interest in low-carbon operations. Organizations implementing such programs report benefits such as operational efficiencies and real estate savings(3). It is estimated that some sustainable commute programs have a benefit cost ratio (BCR) between 2:1 and 11:1, with the most likely scenario demonstrating a 6:1 BCR(3). These savings would be communicated to businesses to help them become more interested in the initiative.
Beyond operational benefits, arguably the most value SMEs will see in this initiative is the support for their employees. Employees consistently report higher job satisfaction, and lower stress at workplaces that offer sustainable commuter programs(5). Employers reported higher retention, higher productivity, and higher overall morale5. SMEs would find value in the employee focused benefits of this program that contribute to their status as an employer of choice.
This initiative would directly inform SMEs on how to reduce emissions and track their success. The guide will include a suite of options to undertake to reduce their commuter emissions with many options low-cost or free. These options will be paired with the cost analysis and potential savings if undertaken. Training sessions will also highlight these potential costs savings, helping SMEs connect sustainable, low-carbon employee commutes with profitability and efficiency of business operations.
Accountability is vital piece of this initiative, and businesses would be able to track their carbon emissions reductions and report their progress annually. The guide would include a set of ‘badges’ for SMEs to add to their website or annual reports to signal their success in reducing emissions through employee commute behaviour.
Sectors such as professional, scientific and technical services, and the finance and insurance sectors which see staff commuting make up a large portion of their carbon emissions, would be of primary focus(4). All sectors would be able to use the program guide to improve their employee benefits, and where relevant, specific resources will be provided to meet the needs of specific sectors.
The overarching aim of this project will be to make the knowledge and low carbon impacts provided in larger scale TDM programs available to businesses of any size. Existing employer commute programs delivered by local governments in Ontario are geographically constrained and often have barriers such as membership fees and minimum employer size. These limitations can prevent these programs from dedicating sufficient time and resources to address the specific needs of SMEs.
What actions do you propose?
- Development of a sustainable commute program toolkit for SMEs
- Province-wide training sessions with partner agencies or directly with local SMEs
- Province-wide campaign with engaged SMEs to feature their emission reductions.
- Partnership growth with local municipalities and SME-oriented organizations
Development of a sustainable commute program toolkit for SMEs:
- This toolkit will act as a diagnostic tool as well as a repository of resources for businesses to use to build a sustainable commuter program that fits their employees and operational needs. SMEs can review different program options, what operational issues each option can address, and how they are implemented in a variety of settings. This would include industry examples, case studies in behaviour-change, and program planning worksheets. This guide would also provide tools to track operational savings, carbon emissions reductions, and employee satisfaction. Finally, the guide would include access to a set of achievement ‘badges’ to recognize their success year-over-year. These badges would identify the percent of carbon emissions reduced per capita at their organization through sustainable commuting behaviour change. Badges could be added to their website, job postings and/or annual reporting to boost visibility of their success.
Province-wide training sessions with partners or directly with local SMEs:
- This initiative will kick-off with a series of free “Sustainable commuting & your profits” training sessions offered in-person and online across the province. Online sessions will be held monthly to orient interested SMEs with the program guide and help them kick off their workplace initiatives.
- A province-wide campaign would be run to raise awareness of SMEs taking part and how they are reducing emissions through encouraging sand supporting sustainable commuting at their organizations. This campaign would also help to promote the guide to other SMEs and showcase success.
Partnership growth with local municipalities and SME-oriented organizations:
- Having worked in the transportation demand management field in across the GTHA, Ottawa, Waterloo and beyond, we are well connected to the municipalities and business associations which can help reach SMEs. UrbanTrans will work with municipalities, chambers of commerce and other professional associations to help maximize the reach of this initiative. If these partnerships cannot be made, or do not prove to be advantageous, UrbanTrans will undertake business outreach independently to promote the initiative to SMEs across the province.
Who will take these actions?
UrbanTrans would be the delivery agent of this program. UrbanTrans has been involved in the creation and delivery of SME sustainable staff commute programs in Massachusetts and Georgia, and has significant body of experience with sustainable staff commute programs in Toronto, Boston, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Denver and beyond. UrbanTrans staff include urban planners, behaviour change experts, a marketing team and graphic designers. The project would be led by Adam Arnold, a TDM professional with over ten years of experience in designing and delivering workplace commute options programs, and Adrienne Boyd, a skilled travel behaviour change specialist with five years of employee engagement experience.
Where will these actions be taken?
This initiative would have a province-wide reach through in-person training sessions, with a focus on smaller cities with no commuter programs currently offered through the local municipality. Monthly online sessions to allow SMEs to access an introduction to the program and resources anywhere in the province regardless of location or session schedule.
What are the proposal’s projected costs?
Some of the anticipated challenges includes securing access to an SME audience. As the below budget reflects, the team will put significant labour resources into relationship building to maximize exposure to SMEs. The team also acknowledges the challenges of securing commitment of SMEs to an unfamiliar concept. Careful roll-out, marketing and training is a key piece of the project will also be of keen focus in this project to promote significant uptake. This training will also need to be in-depth to properly educate SMEs in the use of this toolkit and how to see results. Training session costs reflect the labour and materials needed to address this challenge.
The one overarching challenge in this project is that that behaviour change is a slow process which takes place over months, years, and decades. Impacts may not be immediate. Early steps to educate SMEs and assist them in implementing a sustainable commute program are critical, as emissions reductions are cumulative.
The bulk of the project budget will cover labour costs, with additional budget required for materials and travel, as detailed below:
- Labour Costs (including design and delivery of the toolkit, training events and marketing): $60,000
- Training session & materials costs: $10,000
- Travel Costs: $10,000
- Marketing: $5000
Once the solution is built and implemented describe a path forward for it to scale to other users/companies.
Local Ontario municipalities and chambers of commerce will not only be included in the initial roll-out of this initiative but also positioned as potential program stewards to carry forth the program after the initial phase is complete in June 2019. The guide will be developed to be a stand-alone resource for SMEs which can be freely shared with municipalities and business and professional organizations to host on their websites where local SMEs can access this resource any time. Additional training for these organizations would be provided based on a ‘train the trainer’ approach.
UrbanTrans will also coach these local partners to potentially launch their own programs using the SME guide as a template for sustainable commute initiatives and tracking. This guide could be scaled up to become a full workplace program for all sizes of workplaces in a given region or municipality. This is especially true for Ontario’s smaller cities which are growing quickly and will soon be dealing with significant road congestion problems (and associated carbon impacts) if commuter transportation is not addressed head on.
How will your solution lead to change on a larger scale over time (i.e. 3 to 5 years out)? How many businesses can potentially be affected by your solution?
There is no specific cap to how many businesses could be affected by this initiative. The goal is to have 200 SMEs across Ontario tracking their emissions reductions and engaged in the promotional campaign by June 2019. As a stand-alone initiative, the changes seen 3 to 5 years among the SMEs engaged for the project could be substantial as a culture of sustainable commuting will have been established long-term with compounding returns. Should local municipalities, chambers or other business associations commit to continuing to promote the guide after June 2019, the program could grow many times over.
What business and funding model have you considered for your solution to become sustainable?
The most challenging part of workplace commuter program is research and establishment. This initiative addresses this intensive and arduous part of the process while paving the way for municipalities and/or business associations to follow-through on continuing to make this resource freely available. It is not anticipated this solution will require significant ongoing funding; however, part of the education of SMEs will include the identification of internal resources to allow them to continue to deliver programming. Workplace commuter programs are not necessarily expensive but do require an ongoing commitment of resources. SMEs will be encouraged to allocate these resources, and to work in collaboration with other SMEs and associations to maximize any investments.
What impact will the proposed actions have on reducing greenhouse gas emissions?
Similar sustainable commute programs report a reduction in drive alone commuting ranging from an average of 2% all the way to 35% depending on the organization(5).
UrbanTrans aims to showcase how SMEs can be just as effective implementing sustainable commute programs as large organizations by challenging SMEs to make ambitious goals and track their success. While an average reduction in drive-alone commuting in similar sustainable commute programs sounds unimpressive, consider that 2% mentioned above represents an approximate 2.4 million car trips, or a reduction of approximately 40million vehicle kilometres travelled each year. This initiative will use the 2% reduction as a baseline goal and encourage SMEs to commit to aiming higher.
What are other key benefits?
Beyond the appeal this initiative has to SMEs, this initiative also has wide-ranging benefits to the population at large. Reducing congestion on the roads by boosting utilization of transit, cycling and walking infrastructure creates efficiencies for the transportation network at the municipal and provincial level.
Overall better quality of life and improved level of public health are major benefits of communities which have sustainable commuter program support. With both reduced vehicle collisions due to fewer vehicles kilometres travelled and increased physical activity through active transportation methods, communities can save millions in healthcare costs long term3.
Additionally, adoption of these programs will help individual SMEs showcase their commitment to the environment and community, and also offer a collective opportunity to demonstrate the impact that SMEs can have on environmental issues.
About the Authors
UrbanTrans specializes in innovative transportation solutions with a focus on multi-modal transportation planning. Many of the firm’s areas of expertise overlap with the development of a sustainable commute toolkit including; program management and transportation planning specialized in TDM, demand management programs and policies, program evaluation and metrics, and stakeholder outreach. UrbanTrans brings expertise in social/behavioral marketing, and behavior change initiatives. UrbanTrans also has expertise with program innovation and the development of new program components such as enhanced evaluation, employer transportation coordinator training and research and handbooks for key audiences.
Adam Arnold, Manager of Programs at UrbanTrans, has over eleven years of experience in transportation demand management programming, stakeholder engagement, employer recruitment, commuter engagement and outreach implementation. Adam currently supports the management of the three most successful Transportation Management Associations (TMAs) in the Great Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA), overseeing program development, management and implementation. Adam is committed to building capacity and skills in the TDM field, and has lead professional development workshops for Employee travel coordinators in both Canada and the US.
Adrienne Boyd is a Senior Program Specialist at UrbanTrans. She brings experience in program delivery, client relations and has previously worked in supporting large-scale TDM public awareness campaigns. Adrienne manages programs specializing in workplace outreach, online marketing, and campaign management. Current projects include work with Metrolinx, Halton Region, City of Toronto, and Rappahannock Transportation Commission to promote sustainable transportation options and behaviour change.
Related Proposals (optional)
- Ministry of Environment. 2014 “Ontario’s Climate Change Update”. https://www.ontario.ca/page/ontarios-climate-change-update-2014
- Metrolinx. 2008. “Cost of Road Congestion in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area“http://www.metrolinx.com/en/regionalplanning/costsofcongestion/ISP_08-015_Cost_of_Congestion_report_1128081.pdf
- Metrolinx. 2015. Smart Commute Workplace Program Business Case Review. http://www.metrolinx.com/en/regionalplanning/projectevaluation/benefitscases/Business_Case-Smart_Commute_Workplace_Program_EN.pdf
- ClimateSmart. 2018. “200 Million Tonnes of Opportunity”
- Smart Commute.2015. “Workplace Impact Report”. http://smartcommute.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Smart-Commute-Workplace-Impact-Report-EN6.pdf